The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 1 (or, “The Potions Man”)
Calimero Pineiro took a huge step away from the table at the front of his booth and surveyed his work. Yep. This looked like it would be a good cover up.
The entire length of the table was covered with bottles of all shapes and sizes, each with its own label. The pink ones to the left were marketed as elixirs of dreams, designed to help people sleep a little better. The fat blue ones in the middle were weight loss potions. And the clear jars on the right were face masks that would make your complexion cleaner in fifteen days or your bits back.
Of course, the potions at this table were only so Calimero could get you to the back of the booth, where the real fun would begin. Never mind that he couldn’t legally sell transformation potions and hex charms at the Ovest Traders Market. Everybody knew magicians used the Market as a prime place to sell their wares, as long as it was done under the table.
He grinned, his goggles drooping over his eyes as he gave a decisive nod. Yes. This would have to do for today.
He reached for the sign at the top of the tent and switched it over, making it say “Open” instead of “Closed.” He then went around to the other side and sat down on his stool, watching the market open up for the morning. Every Tenthday, the market would open earlier in the morning, since people had this day off of work. Most people, anyway -- not Calimero, because selling these potions he made was how he made his living. What little living he had.
At least the weather was nice. Not a cloud in the sky. A perfect day for a Tenthday market.
The empty stand on Calimero’s left still hadn’t found a tenant, even though he knew they had been doing advertising in the market fliers for at least three weeks. The one on the right wouldn’t be ready until sometime that afternoon, as usual. Maryam was a nice woman, elderly, who sold her baskets and usually made a good profit. A busy neighbor meant that Calimero would have a good haul as well, but it all depended on the day. Across the way, Calimero noticed that the twins, Luka and Rana, had set up their shop according to schedule. Luka was a regular girl, but Rana made magic wands that they sold in the back. Luka was a weaver, and her threads would get people to pay attention while Rana did displays in the back, making sure they knew the code word.
The word in question: “white rose.” Calimero had no clue why the magic users of Fiorazzurro used those two words as their secret confirmation, but they did. If a person came to a booth and said they were looking for a white rose, that meant they knew magic wares could be bought there, and they were safe to sell to. The word had only emerged within the last few years or so, after Queen Cendrillon’s ascension to the throne, but it had worked like a hex bracelet so far: perfectly. No guards had ever caught Calimero before, and he intended to keep it that way.
Directly across the way was a food stall from the Sud -- run by non-magical people -- and then another empty stall. Calimero knew the person who had once had a booth there, but he had been caught by the police for selling protection gems in the back. Not directly magical, but still a felony. Queen Cendrillon had outlawed all necklaces with charms to the working class, just in case. It wasn’t something Calimero had been happy about, especially since he then had to hide the sapphire his mother had given him before he had moved to Fiorazzurro. At least he had managed to keep it thus far.
“Mi hermano, please be safe out there,” she had said to him when he had taken the train from Spain to Italy, and there onward to Fiorazzurro. “It’s a dangerous world out there for folks like us. You need to always be watching, and this will help you. It’s embedded with a protection spell. When it gets warm against your skin, run until you can’t run any longer.”
That had been five long years ago, back when Calimero had only been eleven and he had applied to be Master Rossini’s apprentice on Fiorazzurro. It had been before Queen Cendrillon’s ascension, back when the young child prince Lukiliolaika had sat on the throne. Too young to have an opinion about magical issues and too young to technically be king, Prince Len, as he had been called, was a good leader to those with extra talents. Calimero had traveled to Fiorazzurro as a regular student. If he had tried to apply now for such protections, Queen Cendrillon’s government would most certainly deny his visa.
Master Rossini had died in the same explosion that had killed the young Prince Len. Things had never been the same after that on Fiorazzurro.
Calimero rested his head on his hands as the horn blew from the grandstand, signaling that the Ovest Traders Market was finally open for people to browse the aisles. His work goggles slipped over his dark bangs again, resting on his nose and right in front of his dark eyes. He didn’t like wearing his lab coat on days like this, but the goggles were a way to stand out among the crowd, to identify him as someone with something extra in his booth without outright proclaiming it. He also didn’t like wearing the suits everybody else did, opting instead for brown summer pants and brightly colored button-up shirts. It was a sight, and Luka and Rana usually tore him apart for it. But Calimero didn’t care. All of his button up shirts had come from home, and there was no way he wasn’t wearing them.
Especially on a hot day like this. He didn’t know how Rana was going to handle being in a suit all day in this weather. You could fry an egg on the cement if you had the hand to do it with.
He interacted with some of the people stopping by as the crowds finally converged on the aisles upon aisles of tents. The air became heavy with chatter, people yelling out from their booths, excitement all over. Children chased dogs with ribbons in their hair. A woman passed by with a churros cart, and it made Calimero a little bit homesick. He hadn’t seen his mother in years, not since Cendrillon’s reign had began. Calimero had learned hex spells from his mother, but potions had always been his specialty. His mother had recognized this and had saved up the money necessary to send him to Rossini, who had been a friend of Calimero’s father’s.
And now, he was here. Without Rossini. Without his family. Without much of a plan other than to keep making potions in Rossini’s old lab and selling them. He was lucky enough that supplies were still easy to come by for most of the potions. Some of them he would have to special order -- for instance, somebody had stopped by last Tenthday asking if he made firestarters, and he knew one ingredient for that would be almost next to impossible to find. Easier during Prince Len’s reign, but still extremely hard nonetheless. At least he could still afford to buy some materials while essentially living in Rossini’s lab for free, using the insurance money to pay it off.
Two people wanted the weight loss potion -- Calimero could tell they really needed it -- and he sold them both one for three bits each. As he passed them the potions, he looked across the aisle and almost dropped one of them.
Standing across the way, looking at the food stand, was a girl, short, with a green dress on. Her dress wasn’t as conservative as most others’ was, and Calimero wondered if she was trying to make a statement. She looked as if...maybe she was from the country, with her old dress and her brown ankle boots. Calimero couldn’t tell.
But he knew for sure that nobody wore their hair in pigtails anymore. In fact, that specific style had been written out of Queen Cendrillon’s wardrobe guidebook for being offensive. Only the Queen and members of the Royal Court were permitted to have their hair off their neck. Commoners could have their hair pinned back off their neck or tied around their head with a ribbon, but a full tail was out of the question. Did this girl know what she was doing? “Excuse me,” he said, standing up from his booth and trying to get her attention. “Miss? Ma’am?”
The girl looked down at something for a split second, and then, her attention turned to Calimero. Her eyes were green, piercing, foreign. She was white skinned, Scandinavian, maybe. He wasn’t that good at telling. He could tell when somebody was from Spain, but white people all just looked the same to him.
She pointed to herself, another strange gesture. Calimero gave a curt nod downward, as if to say, ‘Yes, I do mean you.’ With that, she came over to the booth.
“What is this?” she asked, her voice stilted and unnatural in the Italian she spoke.
Calimero took a deep breath. His own Italian was accented, but thankfully just slightly. “I have here drinks for your pleasure,” he said. “All sorts of bottles and jars for your interest --”
“Actually.” Offense number three was that the girl interrupted him. If you interrupted somebody on Fiorazzurro, it meant that what they were saying was of little importance and that you did not care about them in the slightest. Calimero had learned that one the hard way. He tried not to be offended. This girl was a foreigner, was she not?
“Actually.” She regained her composure, and then spoke again. “I’d like to know where I am. What this is. Who you are.”